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The dominant "racial frame" that evolved in the United States — during the long colonial and national era of slavery and after it — was that of white supremacy. But how do persons classified as Latinos or Hispanics fit into the country's racial frame today? Are Hispanics a "race" or, more precisely, a racialized category?

In fact, are they even a "they"? Is there a Latino or Hispanic ethnic group, cohesive and self-conscious, sharing a sense of peoplehood in the same way that there is an African American people in the United States? Or is it mainly administrative shorthand devised for statistical purposes; a one-size-fits-all label that subsumes diverse peoples and identities?

This article considers these questions, focusing primarily on official or state definitions and on the malleable way the categories of Hispanic and Latino are incorporated into the psyches of those so classified. The groups included under the label "Hispanic" or "Latino" — Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Salvadorans, Colombians, and the many other nationalities from Latin America and even Spain itself — were not "Hispanics" or "Latinos" in their countries of origin; rather, they only became so once they arrived in the United States. As such, the labels of Hispanic and Latino have a particular meaning only in the U.

The Hispanic population of the United States reached This total excludes the population on the island of Puerto Rico, who are U. Hispanics surpassed African Americans in to become the largest pan-ethnic minority in the country. According to the latest estimates of the U.

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Census Bureau, by the Hispanic population is projected to grow to more than million people, or 30 percent of the national population. By comparison, the non-Hispanic black population in is projected to comprise about 13 percent of the national total, and the Asian population 8 percent. Hispanics or Latinos are a diverse group, made up both of recently arrived newcomers and of old timers with deep ancestral roots in what is now the United States. But it is also a population that has emerged seemingly suddenly, its growth driven both by accelerating immigration from the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America — above all from Mexico — and by high rates of natural increase.

Indeed, over 40 percent of Hispanics in the United States today are foreign born, while about one-third consists of a second generation of native-born children of immigrant parents. Although certain methods of identifying and counting people of Mexican ancestry in the United States were in place as early as , efforts to distinguish and enumerate the "Hispanic" population as a whole using subjective indicators of Spanish origin or descent date back to the late s. At that time — in the context of surging civil-rights activism, new federal legislation that required accurate statistical documentation of minority groups' disadvantages, and growing concerns over differential census undercounts — Mexican-American organizations, in particular, pressed for better data about their group.

The White House ordered the addition of a Spanish-origin self-identifier on the census "long-form" questionnaire and, to test it, the question was added to the November Current Population Survey CPS — the first time that a subjective item such as this was used in the collection of government statistics. Later analyses comparing the results nationally of the subjective Hispanic self-identification in the CPS against the objective use of Spanish surnames in the identification of Hispanic households found significant differences between the two measures, raising questions of validity and reliability.

For example, in the Southwest, only 74 percent of those who identified themselves as Hispanic had Spanish surnames, while 81 percent of those with Spanish surnames identified themselves as Hispanic. In the rest of the country, 61 percent of those who self-identified as Hispanic had Spanish surnames, and a mere 46 percent of those with Spanish surnames self-identified as Hispanic. Then, in , Congress passed a remarkable bill "relating to the publication of economic and social statistics for Americans of Spanish origin or descent" — the first and only law in U.

The law asserted that there was a need to identify the "urgent and special needs" of the 12 million Americans who identified themselves as being of Spanish-speaking origins in the census, a large number of whom "suffer from racial, social, economic, and political discrimination and are denied the basic opportunities that they deserve as American citizens".

In , as required by Congress, the Office of Management and Budget issued Directive Race and Ethnic Standards for Federal Statistics and Administrative Reporting to standardize the collection and reporting of racial and ethnic statistics and to include data on persons of "Hispanic origin. Once a respondent claims "Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin," they are asked to further designate which country or countries to which they trace their origin.

Origin can be the "heritage, nationality group, lineage, or country of birth of the person or the person's parents or ancestors before their arrival in the United States. Race is not defined biologically, anthropologically, or genetically by the U.

2. Origins

Census Bureau. Racial categories in the Census were:. Directive 15 specified a minimal classification of four races "American Indian or Alaskan Native," "Asian or Pacific Islander," "Black," and "White" and two "ethnic" backgrounds "of Hispanic origin" and "not of Hispanic origin" , and allowed the collection of more detailed information as long as it could be aggregated within those categories. Since that time, in keeping with the logic of this classification, census data on Hispanics have been officially reported with a footnote indicating that "Hispanics may be of any race.

Later criticism of the ethnic and racial categories led to a formal review of Directive 15, beginning in with congressional hearings and culminating in revised standards which were adopted in The changes stipulated five minimum categories for data on "race" "American Indian or Alaska Native," "Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander," "Asian," "Black or African American," and "White" ; offered respondents the option of selecting one or more racial designations an option used for the first time in the census ; and reworded the two "ethnic" categories into "Hispanic or Latino" and "not Hispanic or Latino.

The notice in the Federal Register of these revisions to Directive 15 pointedly added that "The categories in this classification are social-political constructs and should not be interpreted as being scientific or anthropological in nature The standards have been developed to provide a common language for uniformity and comparability in the collection and use of data on race and ethnicity by Federal agencies.

Nonetheless, Directive 15's definitions of racial and ethnic populations are used not only by federal agencies, but also by researchers, schools, hospitals, businesses, and state and local governments — and are conflated, abridged, and diffused through the mass media, entering into the popular culture and shaping the national self-image. Much has been made in the media and even in academic discourse about "the browning of America," a misnomer based on stereotypes of an appearance presumed to characterize people of Spanish-speaking origin.

But does the Hispanic population differ significantly from non-Hispanics by race, as it does by place, socioeconomic status, and national origins? The American system of racial classification, employed variously since the first census of , has been the epitome of externally imposed, state-sanctioned measures of group difference, primarily distinguishing the majority-white population from black and American Indian minority groups, and later from Asian-origin populations.

Yet Hispanics were incorporated in official statistics as an ethnic category, and considered as being of any race. Moreover, prior to Mexicans were almost always coded as white for census purposes, and were deemed white by law if not by custom since the 19th century. How then are racial categories internalized by Hispanics? Are there intergroup and intragroup differences in their patterns of racial self-identification? Since , the census has asked separate questions for Hispanic or Latino origin and for race, permitting an examination of how Hispanics or Latinos self-report by race and country of origin.

Despite increasing immigration from a wider range of Latin American countries over the past few decades, persons of Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban origin comprised 77 percent of the The proportion of persons of Mexican descent almost certainly increased to account for two-thirds of the Much of the remainder of the Hispanic population in was made up of six groups of relatively recent immigrant origin: Dominicans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans comprised 7 percent of the total while Colombians, Peruvians, and Ecuadorians made up nearly 4 percent.

Hence, nine nationality groups accounted for nine out of ten 88 percent Hispanics in the United States in Persons who trace their identities to the ten other Spanish-speaking countries of Central and South America, plus Spain, comprised only 4 percent of the Hispanic total. And only 8 percent self-reported as "other Spanish, Hispanic or Latino" in the census, without indicating a specific national origin.

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Overall, only half of the In contrast, 97 percent of the Most notably, there was a huge difference in the proportion of these two populations that chose "other race. In addition, Hispanics in the census were more than three times as likely to report a mixture of "two or more races" — 6.

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Still, the main divide among Hispanics was between the 48 percent who self-identified racially as "white" in and the 43 percent who rejected all the official categories and reported "other race" instead. The corresponding aggregated figures have widened to 53 percent and 38 percent in the census, but the main patterns analyzed below continue to apply a decade later. Examining the results for each of the main Hispanic nationality groups, the proportions who identified racially as "white" ranged from a low of 22 percent among Dominicans to a high of 84 percent among Cubans.

More than half of Dominicans 59 percent and Salvadorans and Guatemalans 55 percent reported "another race," as did 46 percent of Mexicans, 42 percent of Peruvians and Ecuadorians, 38 percent of Puerto Ricans, 28 percent of Colombians, and less than 8 percent of Cubans. The main aspects which distinguish Black Hispanics born in the United States of America from African Americans is having Spanish as their mother tongue or most recent ancestors' native language, their culture passed down by their parents, and their Spanish surnames.

Of all Hispanic groups, Puerto Ricans have the closest relationship with the African American community, and because of this there is also increasing intermarriages and offspring between non-Hispanic blacks and Hispanics of any race, mainly between Puerto Ricans and African Americans, which increases both the Hispanic ethnic and black racial demographics. Since the early days of the movie industry in the United States of America, when Black Hispanic actors were given roles, they would usually be cast as African Americans. Those who claim that Black Hispanics are not sought to play Hispanic roles in the United States allege this unfairly leads the masses of viewers to an ignorance to the existence of darker skinned Hispanics.

Further, some Black Hispanics who identify themselves as black but of also mixed race heritage once affirming their Hispanicity may be deprived of their status as Black people among African Americans, and categorized by society as non-Black in the American historical context. The same thing happens in U. Hispanic media; critics accuse U. Hispanic media, including Latin American media, of overlooking black Hispanic and Latino Americans and black Latin Americans in the telenovelas , mostly stereotyping them as impoverished people.

Many Latinos who come to the United States, come from countries that do not socially practice the pseudoscience backed United States-originated One-drop rule and have a different view of race. Majority of them who come to the United States retain their view of race and mixed race identity, despite being considered "black" by majority of American society due to the One drop rule. On the contrary, there are also some mixed-race Caribbean Latinos who have lived in the United States multi-generationally and have assimilated into American customs, who abandon the racial views of their home countries and embrace African American ideologies like the one drop rule, self identifying as black Afro Latino.

Countries like majority-mixed race Brazil and majority-black Haiti practice similar racial views that separate the mixed race from the "pure blooded" blacks. A review of twenty-one studies found Black Hispanics to have poorer health compared to White Hispanics. The causes are still unknown, but researchers suggested that racial discrimination and segregation may contribute to racial health differences among the Hispanic population in the United States.

Although Black Hispanics are often overlooked or dichotomized as either "black" or "hispanic" in the United States of America, Black Hispanic writers often reflect upon their racialized experience in their works. Afro-Cubans were involved in cultural and political spaces in the 's and 's, including the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power Movement.

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What's the difference between Hispanic, Latino, and Spanish?

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